Peter York on Ads: The trouble with being a very large fuzzy blob

Philips
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Between them, Juliet Stevenson and Zoë Wanamaker dominate the serious voice-over market. World wars, the lives of the artists, politics, and death. Everything important. Their intelligent, concerned bien pensant Primrose Hill contraltos - a nice sort of viola sound - add tone to everything. I don't know if Wanamaker does commercials but Stevenson is adding her nice sound to the brand campaign Philips is currently doing, so it must have toney intentions, though I'm not clear exactly what they are.

Between them, Juliet Stevenson and Zoë Wanamaker dominate the serious voice-over market. World wars, the lives of the artists, politics, and death. Everything important. Their intelligent, concerned bien pensant Primrose Hill contraltos - a nice sort of viola sound - add tone to everything. I don't know if Wanamaker does commercials but Stevenson is adding her nice sound to the brand campaign Philips is currently doing, so it must have toney intentions, though I'm not clear exactly what they are.

I'm never clear about Philips. They're Dutch for sure. And enormous. And they make practically everything electrical, they probably make bits of the Ariane rocket too. You wouldn't be surprised. But in corporate brand terms - let alone product brands in particular sub sectors - that makes for something a bit fuzzy; a very large blob at the middle of the brand map.

I'm not sure this sort of corporate advertising helps either: they're saying they make a new sort of adjustable "ambient experience" - a sound and vision thing with a you-are-there quality that can be projected on walls with some nice floatation tank music to go with it. So it reassures nervous children in hospital for tests in mighty MRI machines by turning a techno-basement into a sunlit meadow.

It all starts with a seven-year-old on her own waiting for the doctor in a complete white-out art-galleryish space. When he arrives it's out among the flowers and butterflies for them through Philips's magic. "Patients can choose what they see and hear around them - doctors can get things done more easily. Suddenly, hospitals won't feel like hospitals." I'd say that was pushing it a bit, even with Stevenson to say it.

What are they saying? That Philips is terrifically inventive. I think we know that, but we also know that sometimes they haven't been exactly the right inventions - the ones that people wanted - or they're marketing them wrongly. They're also saying that Philips cares about kiddies - that it's Socially Responsible. I don't doubt it, but I really don't think it's a great issue for Philips either - it hasn't got a reputation for Social Responsibility.

And they're suggesting that Philips is just that bit arty and ENO-ish - all that ambience. But I don't think that's a big question for Philips's shareholders or their potential customers. They both want to know how Philips adds value. Customers want to know what's special about Philips that warrants a higher price. (I have to say I watched the ad on my Philips big TV, the nicest I've ever had by a mile - now that's worth talking about.) Shareholders want to know how on earth they can go on being the only Western brown goods company at scale and still make money. It all comes down to the same thing in the end.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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